Saturday, March 31, 2012

On Catholic Martyrdom

Some weeks ago, there was a debate on this blog about the meaning of martyrdom.

I suggested that martyrdom was only about giving up one's life: that suffering in the name of the faith was also a form of martyrdom.

This is one Catholic philosopher's take

One of the greatest contrasts of Christianity with Islam is in the comparative ideas of “martyrdom” in the two religions. “Heroism” means something completely different in these two religions. For Christians, it is the heroism of suffering. In the beatitudes, Jesus tells his hearers, “Blessed are ye when they shall revile you, and persecute you, and speak all that is evil against you, untruly, for my sake” (Mt. 5:11).


Muslim martyrdom, although it theoretically is just the “sacrifice of one’s life for the truth of Islam,” in practice largely involves fighting and killing non-believers. Current examples often include hundreds of strange, irrational, and inhuman massacres of men, women and children by suicide bombers, simply for being “unbelievers.” The greatness and heroism of such martyrs is gauged not on the basis of how much suffering is inflicted on them unjustly, but how much suffering they can cause for themselves in the unnatural act of suicide, and also for the enemies of Islam, until these enemies are forced to realize the superior dignity and power of Islam.

One of the young girls in Flannery O’Connor’s short story, “A Temple of the Holy Ghost,” thinks about herself: “She could never be a saint, but she thought she could be a martyr if they killed her quick.”

This probably captures the way many of us heroism-challenged Christians feel. But martyrdom is hardly ever quick. And suffering of any kind, even for the highest causes, usually seems long.